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Growing Up Quickly

During their first week of life, Snowy Owl nestlings triple in weight. Picture a soft, tiny owl about the size of an apple. It would fit right in the palm of your hand.

In their second week of life, eyes slowly open, changing from small slits to bright yellow circles. They are transformed from white to gray as their primary down feathers are replaced by their secondary down feathers.

Small, nubby quills called feather sheaths appear along the edges of their wings which will soon grow flight feathers.

Around week three, chicks weigh in around a pound and start feeling adventurous – they begin running around near the nest. This is called nest departure. Snowy Owl chicks move into independence more quickly than other large birds of prey. This is probably an adaptation to their Arctic habitat where summer is very short. Snowy Owl chicks have only about three months to hatch, grow, disperse, learn to fly, and become independent before the first snow in September. Talk about growing up fast!

When they first leave the nest, they still have the downy feathers of nestlings, which don’t keep them very warm or dry. Rainstorms and cold weather sometimes prove fatal. Still unable to fly, they must find protection and hide from predators among tundra grasses and lichens. During this time, their parents stay nearby and continue to feed and protect them as they gain independence.

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